Nobody touches the Road Hole on the Old Course in St. Andrews without creating a stir. So when a new back tee box was built prior to the 2010 Open Championship on the famous 17th, it was one of the most talked about hole alteration in recent memory.
The hole's 4.66 scoring average during Open Championsip week in 2010 validated the decision in the eyes of the committee to extend the hole 40 yards. However, Louis Oosthuizen's seven shot win at 16-under apparently didn't satisfy the R & A enough to leave well enough alone.
So for 2015, the St. Andrews Links Trust, in cooperation with the R & A championship committee, will embark on a slew of changes in preparation for the Open. Nine holes will be modified in total. Bunkers will be altered or removed and undulations in the fairways and around the greens will also be altered. Appointed with the task of altering the game's most hallowed grounds is Martin Hawtree, who has assisted on numerous links courses, most recently the Trump International Golf Links near Aberdeen.
Even the 'Road Hole Bunker' won't be spared, as plans call for the little pot to be widened half a meter and green undulations around it tweaked to spill more balls into golf's most famous pot.
Somewhat expected, critics are already voicing their displeasure with the proposed changes. Among them is golf course architect Tom Doak, who caddied at St. Andrews for a summer during his college years and knows the course design better than most.
'I have felt for many years that The Old Course was sacred ground to golf architects,' wrote Doak. 'As it was to Old Tom Morris and C. B. Macdonald and Harry Colt and Alister MacKenzie before us. It has been untouched architecturally since 1920, and I believe that it should remain so.'
The disconnect here is that Doak's bread and butter is building destination courses for amateurs like Pacific Dunes and Cape Kidnappers, or traditional members clubs like Ballyneal and Renaissance Club. He's not the 'go-to-guy' for the pro tours, who usually call on Jack Nicklaus, Rees Jones, Pete Dye or more recently Gil Hanse to help keep venues up to snuff for the game's elite golfers.
And the Old Course has a certain two-faced quality to it. Despite hosting the Open more regularly than any course on the rota, during daily play, the course has a modest playability with wide fairways and giant greens that make a walk around here feel more like a members club than an Open Championship venue. At just around 6,300 yards for daily play (due in part to keep pace of play moving), it's certainly not a brute compared to more penal links designs like Royal County Down or Carnoustie. That's been the beauty of the Old for over a century, so Doak believes any changes to its genius should be thoroughly discussed.
'I think that the default position should be that such an international treasure should be guarded, and that there should be a high burden of proof that changes need to be made, before they can be made.'
A lot has changed in golf course technology since the Old Course was altered last nearly 100 years ago, and it appears the Old, at least in the eyes of its stewards, finally needs to go under the knife to accommodate the game's best.